Short Story Scene by Margaret Cummins
The small West Side neighborhood is quiet in the early morning of November 22nd, 2010. The dark green Subarus bump down Cherry Avenue, on a mission to pick up the last-minute necessities for the lavish dinners taking place that evening. A woman runs by with her black Lab leading her to the small park on the corner of Cherry and Ableton. A standard poodle named Rosie attempts to follow the black Lab but soon realizes that she is sill chained to the front porch of 1456 Cherry Avenue. The fact that she cannot follow in pursuit does not stop the insistent barking, as she begs to be freed so she can frolic with the spry young Lab. A medium-height woman appears on the tiled porch, urging the standard to be quiet, and eventually, although Rosie is still agitated, the woman lets her back into the house.
“I swear to god, Rosie, if you poop again in the living room, you’re going outside for the rest of the day,” Sharon Fields has yet to embark on her final trip to the Piggly Wiggly, for she had the unfortunate experience of waking up to a mess of diarrhea all over her Persian rug in the living room. Once she had poured gallons of Fantastic over the major part of the living room, she fed the twenty- pound tabby cat they called Ishtar and sat down to finish her menu for the 2010 Thanksgiving gathering. As soon as she sits down, the shrill ring of the phone causes her to wince. She sighs as she reluctantly rises to answer.
“Hello…oh yes hi how are you…good, good…oh we’ll…no I understand…yes that would be great…yes, yes 6:30 will be fine…okay, see you then.” She hangs up the phone, still in shock at what just happened. She downtroddedly walks up the stairs to her and her husband’s room and silently opens the door. She’s greeted by a long and resonant snore. She closes her eyes for a second and then whispers, “Vernon…Vernon, wake up. Penelope is coming to Thanksgiving.”
“Okay, now tell me again…how did this happen exactly?” asks Vernon groggily as he sits up in the white-framed bed. “I told you, her therapist said it was best if she stay with family for Thanksgiving. Come on, Honey, she’s clean this time.” “Yes I know that, Sharon, but wasn’t she clean at New Year’s, Easter, Anne’s birthday, your birthday … .”
“OKAY” says Sharon as she throws up both hands in exasperation, “Her track record may not be the best, but she’s fine; everything is going to be fine!” She collapses on the bed, exhausted from lack of sleep and menu-planning. “I just want everything to be perfect,” she sighs as she looks up at the ceiling fan spinning at full force.
“Hey, come here,” Vernon says as he offers an arm to curl up in. She obliges and lets her eyes close just for a moment. “You’re going to make a beautiful dinner, just as you always do. So what if we have a senile old woman, a crazed E-harmony partaker, and a crack fiend at the table? It just adds to the ambiance.” She lets her body convulse in laughter, as she thinks about how crazy this dinner will be. He kisses her forehead, and she remembers why she fell in love with the broke writer who wooed her in DuBois Bookstore. As she begins to relax in the lavender bedroom, Rosie begins howling at the front door. It opens with a bang, and a dramatic and neurotic voice carries up the stairs, “We’re here. Jared dropped the damn casserole on the front porch, and I have to pee like a fricken race horse; is Anne here yet?” Vernon and Sharon look at each other and without saying a word, know exactly what the other person is thinking: welcome to the holiday season.
“Oh Lord, does she have to come? I hate that woman,” states Elizabeth, feet propped up on the old wooden table, decorated with stray doodles from her and her sister’s toddler years. Sharon glances over at her elder daughter, twenty- eight years old and nine months pregnant with a baby boy. Her tiny 5’3 body is engulfed in her brown maternity sweater and black spandex. Sharon looks down at her daughter’s feet and chuckles as she sees her tiny size 6 stuffed in pink slippers with a pigs’ heads protruding out of them. Seeing the stare from her mother, Elizabeth responds with her own chuckle and nearly chokes on the carrots she’s stuffing in her mouth,
“They’re the only things that fit my feet anymore! I swear to god if the thing doesn’t come out soon I’ll rip it out myself.” Jared hears this as he’s returning from the porch, “Honey, at some point you will have to start calling IT by ITS name.” Sharon laughs at this, remembering the time when her daughter swore she would never have a baby, and realizing that the same mentality still is in the foreground. Elizabeth rolls her eyes and shoves a green bean into her mouth, having moved on from the carrots,
“When is Anne coming anyway?” having changed the subject in one clean motion. “She should be here any minute, but let’s be honest: we never know exactly when your sister will be anywhere,” states Vernon as he enters the grey kitchen with a 30 pound turkey that’s been soaked overnight in brine and is now crackling brown. As if on cue, the front door opens with a bang, a yelp from Rosie and a, “Oh god, baby I’m sorry! I didn’t know you were behind the door!”
“Anne’s home!” screams Elizabeth, as she tries to rise from the table without tipping over due to her being so out of proportion. With help from Jared and Vernon, she is able to waddle to the front door and greet her baby sister. Anne is 7 years younger than her sister but is 3 inches taller and vastly more maternal than her older sister. Sharon and Vernon gaze at their two daughters and laugh at how different they are. Anne is in green hobo pants and a blue flannel shirt; her current hairdo is a bleached blond bob pulled back in a messy bun. Her newest addition to her piercing list is a nose ring and a lip ring. Sharon notices these right away, and Vernon, as if he can already sense her frustration, squeezes her hand slightly as if to say “not tonight.” Anne has immediately set in, talking about a protest that she took part in, and Elizabeth is listening intently. Once she has concluded that it was the, “most powerful protest we’ve ever done,” Anne turns to Sharon and Vernon expectantly and says, “So when we eating?”.
Sharon is in the kitchen–hurriedly putting together garnishes on the sweet potatoes and spinach, when the doorbell rings. Sharon grimaces, as if in pure anticipation for what she’s about to embark on, “Danny and Barbara are here!” announces Anne from the front hallway. Sharon relaxes a little; she loves Danny and Barbara and waltzes out to the living room to greet her dear friends. She enters the living room to Vernon screaming, “Barbara no!! Not that chair!” In seconds Barbara has collapsed to the floor; under her sits the pieces of a chair that Anne had painted when she was four or five years old. On seeing the chair, the terrified Barbara with her legs up in the air, Danny chortling from the safety of the couch, and Vernon attempting to rescue her without being pulled down as well, Sharon decides to slowly retreat back to the kitchen. Twenty or so minutes go by before the doorbell is rung again; this time by David and his mother, visiting from Brooklyn, Faye. Now Sharon has known David for over 30 years, but she had not yet met Faye. Faye is a tiny woman, only about 5’0 and not more than 90 pounds. She wears a pink sweater and khakis, with white Keds peaking out from under her pressed pants. Sharon has to go and introduce herself to Faye, and at that point she greets her old friends. She is wondering where Jared, Anne and Elizabeth are, but is not too concerned; she is more anxious than anything else. They are only expecting one more person and that is Penelope.
Penelope enters the Fields’ household promptly at 6:30, with arms wide and ready for introductions and embraces. She is clad in long purple dress with a white sweater; her grey, Medusa-like hair is combed back into a slick bun. To Sharon’s surprise, she actually looks normal. Shortly after Penelope’s arrival, Anne, Elizabeth and Jared stumble down the stairs̶Elizabeth, due to her enormous belly, but Anne and Jared for other reasons. Sharon notices the red eyes before the smell, the compulsive eating, and the random laughing fits. Sharon drags Anne into the hall closet̶sending Anne into another laughing fit, “Anne Fields, I know you did not smoke marijuana before this god- damned Thanksgiving dinner.” Anne purses her lips, then changes them into a fishy face and tries with all her might not to laugh the following words, “No, Mama, don’t worry.” A sigh of relief escapes Sharon’s lips, but it is too soon, “I made brownies instead”. Sharon’s anger turns to laughter, as she looks at her crazy hippie daughter and realizes, Why the hell not; it’s going to be a long night anyway; why not get a little high? The happiness shared with her daughter soon ends when Penelope’s true self begins to come out. She is directing snide comments toward Sharon and everyone else around the cocktail table, including senile Faye who was coming up on her fifth telling of the Cold War.
The glass paneled doors slam, as Sharon tries to distance herself from the hectic scene just outside the dining room. Rosie’s paw scratches against the glass panels; she is trying to escape as well. Sharon opens the door tentatively and ushers the poodle in quickly. Rosie rests her head on her knee as Sharon strokes her soft, apricot curls. Sharon squints, as if in anticipation of the glass doors again opening. Penelope sticks her head in and immediately sets in on Sharon. “Where have you been? You can’t just run off like that; you have a job to be a good hostess.” This has not been the first time Penelope has made a censorious comment to her that evening; every other sentence had been a jab, and she had accepted them all, until this moment. Sharon rises calmly yet threateningly says, “Penelope, get the hell out of my house.” Taken aback, Penelope backs up into the dining room, but Sharon is not done. “This whole Thanksgiving you have been ragging on me and ruining this day. Do you think I wanted you here? No, I thought I’d give you one more chance to actually be a friendly relative to me, but I’m done. I do this whole Thanksgiving so my family feels united and surrounded by the people we love, and you are not one of them, not if you continue to treat me like shit. So please, get your things and get out of my house.” The dining room is now silent for once; the meal is in progress, but everyone is gawking for this is the first time Sharon has ever defended herself. Penelope immediately begins screaming that Sharon is a bitch and a cruel whore for treating her this way. She charges, but Danny is quick to throw out his cane, causing her to land face first in the cranberries. Senile Faye begins laughing hysterically before David can hush up his mother by tempting her with a lemon square. Penelope picks herself up, grabs a paper towel, and marches out of the house. Sharon grabs the bottle of Chardonnay from the table, takes a swig, and exits to the bathroom where she locks the door. With all the chaos, no one realizes Rosie is dragging the remains of the turkey under the table.
“Come on, Mommy, it wasn’t that bad; please come out of the bathroom,” pleads Elizabeth. She has taken to sprawling on the floor outside the bathroom, occasionally banging the door to see if she can get a response out of her mother. “Any luck?” Inquires Jared as he brings Elizabeth a cup of tea. “Nope, but help me up, I gotta pee.” With great effort Jared is able to get Elizabeth off of the hardwood floor. Anne takes her place and tries to tempt her mother out of the bathroom, “I’ll give you a brownie if you come out, Mama.” Vernon has joined the effort and rolls his eyes at his daughter who has taken to trying to stick her fingers under the crack in the door. A muffled sound from inside the bathroom causes them to gain hope she’s coming out. “THAT WOMAN DID CRACK IN MY BATHROOM!” her shout emanates throughout the household, causing even Faye to return from whatever world she was currently in. “Well, hey, isn’t that a plus? Maybe that’s why she was being so mean!” says Vernon, laughing at his joke, as Anne turns to look at him in utter confusion. With what was just discovered, no one realizes Elizabeth standing in the doorway.
“Dad?” she says hesitantly. No response. She tries again, “DAD!”. “Baby, this is just not a good time; your mother really won’t come … .” “Daddy, my water broke”.
After ten minutes of trying to calm Sharon down and convincing her that she would be there for the birth if she would just unlock the door, after piling Faye, David, Danny, Barbara, Jared, Anne, Vernon and a very angry, very vocal Elizabeth into the car, and after fourteen hours of labor, Jacob Andrew was born on November 23rd. And it was in that moment that Sharon realized, not everything had to go perfectly for it to be a perfect day.
Margaret Cummins wrote this for her creative writing class at Seven Hills School.